Deify not mere mortals

Deify not mere mortals, for it is liable to end in tears, nor set out seeking their approval. This is the lesson we learned when we admired the writer too much and praised them beyond their station, forgetting mashaAllah and subhanAllah, forgetting that everything is by the will of God. When we forgot our manners, we slaughtered our friend.

Is it not the case that when the Prophet — peace be upon him — heard a man praise another man with exaggeration, he said, ‘You have destroyed the man’s back’? And did he not tell his companions to throw dust into the faces of those who praised people in their presence?

It is the case, but we were oblivious, building the author up, not realising that we were cutting them down. Who knows if it was you or I that destroyed the writer, with our admiring glances and praising words? Who knows the harm we caused when we overstepped the line? Who knows, except Allah?

Deify not mere mortals, for only One deserves our praise. Seek not the approval of mere mortals, for it is by Allah alone that we are judged. Look within to purify your words and, from this day forth, seek only the favour of your Lord.

‘What’s he twittering on about?’

What’s this Twitter business then? Crawling out of my cave recently, I learned that Twitter’s all the rage. They’re even talking about it on PM. Politicians, singers, comedians: they’re all at it. And friends, too, have helpfully found ways of documenting their every move, so that I can catch up on everything they have done all day.

One chap recently announced that he needed a smartphone with a keyboard because he needs to post his status updates. Tweets, I think they’re called. Well yes, it may be that I’m living in a technological backwater, that I am yet to appreciate glorious connective possibilities realised by real companies out there, but his “need” made me stumble. What need? I visited the Twitter website this morning to find out what it’s all about. Naturally I had to click on “Why?

Why? Because even basic updates are meaningful to family members, friends, or colleagues—especially when they’re timely.

* Eating soup? Research shows that moms want to know.
* Running late to a meeting? Your co–workers might find that useful.
* Partying? Your friends may want to join you.

Hmm. Well I think the running late thing has already been solved by the invention of mobile phones (although I already hear the complaint in my ear from those who can never get hold of me because I have the irritating habit of saying, “We didn’t have these things twenty years ago and we survived” – I mean, why should I switch my phone to silent in the masjid when I can just leave it at home – grrr!).

Eating soup? Interesting. What can I say? Just don’t get the stuff on your keyboard or you’ll be wanting a new smartphone (well no doubt you already want one anyway – and what better excuse to replace your iPhone with a Bold – well not a very good excuse actually, because last time I checked the iPhone doesn’t have a keyboard – think of something else).

It’s true, I am the biggest bore of them all and the greatest party-pooper to have ever been born; I believe there was even a character on the Fast Show based on me. You would hear an objection from me, you say, regardless of it being good or bad. Well, tell yourself that and vent your frustrations on Twitter; I expect to see a perfectly formed one-liner in Unicode text on my computer screen right after the one about what you had for lunch.

Call me an ignoramus — I don’t mind — but let me whisper ever so faintly what it is that bothers me about this grand phenomenon. It’s not that I fear you are creating your own Big Brother world by your voluntary participation in sharing every boring detail about your life, nor that a Tweet appears to resemble 1984’s Newspeak, although I’m sure some are bound to make an argument about that before long.

No, it’s something else. It’s the ego. You know me and my ego. I used to publish “The Neurocentric” for crying out loud: “The journey of a self-centred soul”. So if anyone knows about the ego, it’s me. My ego and I are not exactly the best of friends; in fact we could be called the worst of enemies, for my ego is a prick.

Excuse me if this sounds harsh, but Twitter reminds me of my ego. Pardon me if I have grasped the wrong end of the nettle entirely (if indeed one end is better than the other), but the sharing of the trip to the kebab shop, the visit to the gym, the decorating, the hoovering, the profound intellectual article you are reading, the hilarious comedy you’re watching right now, all remind me of the worst part of me: that lust for fame, for acknowledgement, for attention, for respect. That ego of mine that still cannot get over an injustice a decade ago, driving me to make who I am known to all and sundry, in the hope that the unjust character might come to know how unjust they were.

I am not raging against the machine because it takes me ten minutes to send a five word text message (although that much is true), or because I would rather head into the hills to live a subsistence lifestyle on a homestead farm (although I might dream about this too). It is perhaps, I whisper to myself, because too much speech is hardness of the heart, because the ego is swift to dominate, because silence is golden, because I seek meaningful relationships not sound bites, because it’s all becoming pointless, because I seek something greater, because the true tweets — the birdsong in my garden — is far more profound and beautiful than any line of Unicode text on my screen.

All of which summarises why I am heading back into my cave. Wake me up if I miss anything important. A delicious kebab doesn’t count.


Ignorance is a blameworthy state, while seeking knowledge is praised. I don’t doubt or deny this, but sometimes witnessing the great schisms between better Muslims than I, I start to take comfort from my ignorance. I cannot call myself a Salafi, a Sufi, a Traditionalist. I am none of these things, for my knowledge is meagre, my learning scant.

My knowledge of the deen covers how to pray, a few verses of the Qur’an, how to fast, what is halal and what haram, and a few characteristics of neighbourliness. To be complacent in one’s ignorance is a trait condemned in our deen, so when I say what I say it carries no authority: it is purely the defence mechanism of one who just now finds the ranting of the learned a blow to the soul and his iman.

In my ignorance I am a literalist about the words of God and His Messenger, peace be upon him. I do not have at my disposal scholarly texts, fatwas and commentaries that place conditions and clauses upon those words. Thus when I read that our Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘The Merciful One shows mercy to those who are themselves merciful to others; so show mercy to whatever is on earth, then He who is in heaven will show mercy to you,’ I take it to mean what it says. Because I do not possess texts that explain that such mercy is restrained when dealing with Salafis or Sufis, I understand that I should be merciful to everyone I meet regardless. For the brevity of my learning, for the literalism of my learning, here I say Alhamdulilah.

Alhamdulilah that my learning does not extend far beyond lessons like these: he who truly believes in God and the Last Day should speak good or keep silent; fear God wherever you are, following an evil deed with a good deed so that you blot it out, being well-behaved towards people; beware of envy, for envy devours good deeds like fire devours firewood; the strong man is not the one who is strong in wrestling, but the one who controls himself in anger.

Alhamdulilah, for in my ignorance of refutations and conditional clauses, these words prevent me from commenting on the fate of fellow Muslims, from pronouncing on the faith of whole communities of believers. Alhamdulilah that I am unversed in learning that would allow me—so easily—to make light of Prophetic guidance, disregarding the sunnah because my opponent is a Salafi, a Sufi, a Traditionalist. For isn’t our sunnah having good manners, restraining our tongues, showing mercy to our brethren and our neighbours? I don’t limit it to this; I just note that they seem to be the most neglected.

A few days ago I felt the need to recommence my journey of faith, to take my shahada anew and set out to chase after the mantle of piety. It was a noble aim—I don’t deny that—but pondering on my evident failure so far, I suddenly find myself almost content with my state. This is not a good place in which to find myself, for my state is poor indeed, but that contentment does not come from nowhere; it is the result of witnessing great schisms amongst those much more learned than I. I have read words over the last few days that crippled my iman. What saved me was my simple, literalist faith. Words like these from the Qur’an:

Serve God, and do not join any partners with Him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer and what your right hands possess: for God does not love the arrogant, the boastful.

It is true that ignorance is a blameworthy state and that seeking knowledge is praised. All of the above is not intended as justification for my ignorance. It is just a note to those more learned than I that your actions have consequences. While you engage in your battles, the lesser of us draw back repulsed. And so, perhaps, the ignorant masses grow.

Coarse words

There is a particularly coarse post out there in blogland by a convert to Islam about the alleged intrusion of those who ask, “Any passengers?” / “Are you expecting?” / “Don’t worry, I’ve known so many couples in your situation.” In my experience the people who ask these question are genuinely interested and / or possibly concerned, but well-meaning regardless. I certainly have never thought them to be nosy. For most people my response is a reaonable, “Insha Allah.” Occaisionally there are faint tears. But never would I harbour malice laiden grief against them. Really, the Muslim is one who should see blessing in these people’s words. A sadaqa for them or for you. These aren’t excuses to curse our friends and family. For us it is a reason to be patient, which is a sadaqa for ourselves. It is also a reason for us to be grateful to them for even asking, which is another sadaqa for ourselves. So alhamdulilah is the best response, not coarse words, not malice.

A journey

It may be that there is some naivety in my Islam, it may be that these are my Meccan years, it may be that I am just a literalist. Still, I take these words to heart:

Abu Musa said, “I said, ‘Messenger of Allah, whose Islam is best?’ He said, ‘The one from whose tongue and hands the Muslims are safe.’”

Many – more learned that I – mock this simple faith of mine. Conditions are placed upon those words: the tongue is loosened for those perceived to be heretics. Before the accusing finger is pointed towards the Salafis, let us be honest and recognise that this tendency exists in many a group. I have just read an article by a self-defined traditionalist whose words were remarkably similar to those of the commentator who did not think much of my call for unity. Each is convinced that they alone have grasped the true interpretation of Islam, and so all without may be classed as deviants, who then fall outside that realm where we are commanded fair speech and forbidden name-calling. Disappointment. That’s the word that comes to mind so frequently. People of knowledge from whose tongues we are not safe. Perhaps this is just the naivety of my Islam, perhaps I am a literalist.

No doubt this is part of the reason I made that resolve – mentioned in my last post – this weekend. I plan – if Allah wills – to learn Arabic now, so that one day I may kneel at the feet of the people of isnad and ijaza: clearly I cannot take this deen from anonymous essays and public web logs. Only then will I know whether I am truly naive or an idealist instead. But for the time being, until I get there, you will just have to bare with me as I hang on to the words of our blessed Prophet, peace be upon him, as I read them in English translations available to me (fear not: the Muwatta, Riyad as-Salihin and Al-Adab al-Mufrad lie within my grasp). So this simple faith remains, with my literal readings of “speak good or remain silent”, “your mother, your mother, your mother”, “the one from whose tongue”, “this brotherhood of yours”…

A stranger wrote some words for me yesterday that struck a chord:

For myself, my journey began on these reflections.. though blessed with a family and community of Muslims, something was lacking.. the frequent quarrels, petty back talking, etc i witnessed between Muslims and even at the masajid made it obvious that something was missing… and soon i was on a search for something greater… and that was the “Prophetic Character”, as i realised that truly that was the foundation of Islam.

Yes indeed. This is what I seek too: the Prophetic Character. This stranger went on:

So my search began to find the scholars who called to Allah with the display of the Prophetic character, following the footsteps of the noble prophet (peace be upon him) building solid communities based on firm and pure hearts.. who went on to call the masses to the deen with the precious light that emitted from the very inner fibres of their beings…

For me the journey will be long for language is not my strong point: only Allah knows whether I will grasp that foreign tongue and unfamiliar alphabet. But it is a journey I realise I must undertake, for though my knowledge now is little, already I well know the gems of the Prophetic Character in those few words I have learned from their renderings into the English language. This is a journey I must undertake myself. It is my heart and my soul that seeks redemption after all. So I realise that I must go myself to seek knowledge. I have done the bare minimum for the past five years, but my soul tells me that this is not enough. I do not wish to become a scholar or a sheikh. I merely wish to redeem my soul, to put the confusion behind me, to live as our blessed Prophet taught us to. Nothing more than that.

I only want to live a good life and perhaps, if Allah wills, embody however faintly the light of Islam.

Words before the Hour

A good soul reminded me of these things this very evening. As Allah wills, the advice we receive is always timely. So what excuse now do we have? I have quoted the ahadith and Qur’an directly from that advice:

Abu Musa said, “I said, ‘Messenger of Allah, whose Islam is best?’ He said, ‘The one from whose tongue and hands the Muslims are safe.’” (Hadith)

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “From the excellence of a man’s Islam is leaving that which does not concern him.” (Hadith, Tirmidhi)

Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “It is enough of a lie for a man to talk about everything he hears.” (Hadith, Muslim)

“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him speak good or remain silent.” (Hadith, Bukhari)

“And those who abuse believing men and woman, when they have not merited it, bear the weight of slander and clear wrongdoing.” (Qur’an, al Ahzab, 58)

Anas reported that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Do not hate one another nor envy one another nor act in a hostile way towards one another nor cut one another off. Be slaves of Allah, brothers. It is not lawful for a Muslim to cut himself off from his brother for more than three days.” (Hadith)

The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him said, “The gates of the Garden are opened on Mondays and Thursdays and every slave who does not associate anything with Allah is forgiven except the man between whom and his brother there is rancour. It is said, ‘Wait until these two make it up! Wait until these two make it up!’” (Hadith, Muslim)

“Have taqwa of Allah and put things right between you, obey Allah and His Messenger if you are believers.” (Qur’an, al Anfal, 1)

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: It may be that the latter are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong.” (Qur’an, al Hujrat, 11)

Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “No slave veils another slave in this world without Allah veiling him on the Day of Rising.” (Hadith, Muslim)

“The believers are brothers, so make peace between your brothers.” (Qur’an, al Hujraat, 10)

“And when they (the righteous) hear vain talk they turn away therefrom and say: ‘To us our deeds and to you yours; peace be upon you. We seek not the ignorant.” (Qur’an, al Qasas, 55)

If there is anyone amongst those of you who read this weblog whom I have offended, whether in an article or responding to comments, I apologise. Please forgive me. If I have spoken out of turn, then remind me and I will apologise. Please, even if I have irritated you, find some compassion in your heart and make amends with me. If I die tonight or tomorrow it will be too late. If I have any debt with any of you or you with me, whether from words I wrote, a comment not replied, an appointment I missed or otherwise, let us settle it before it is too late. Let us remind ourselves of what binds us.

I turn my face to Him who created the heavens and earth, a pure monotheist, in submission, and am not of those who associate others with Him. My prayer, worship, life and death are for God, Lord of the Worlds, who has no partner. Thus I have been commanded and I am of those who submit.

And my final request is this: make du’a for me. Pray that I do not die other than as one who has earned His pleasure and that I return to Him only with a pure heart.

Thank you for reading my weblog. Over and out.

These are the days

These are the days when we need to express love for one another. The nations are gathering around to devour our ummah just as people share a plate of food. First came the European states with their pens and rulers in the days of Empire, dividing up the Muslim world into bite-sized portions. These days it’s war on weapons of mass destruction, war for democracy, war on dictatorship and war on terrorism. In the name of human rights, human rights are abused. In the name of freedom, innocent men and women are incarcerated. In the name of civilisation, vacuum bombs, cluster bombs and cruise missiles are rained down on far-off lands. These are the days when we need to express love for one another. But we don’t.

For a month or so I was a member of a large group for Muslim writers, but I have left now primarily because I was irritated by the contempt with which some members approached others. There was the hard character who chastised those with whom he disagreed as feminists, sufis and worthless inter-faithers. There was the self-characterised liberal who wrote off the rest of us. There was the ‘traditionalist’ who condemned the ‘salafi’ and the ‘salafi’ who denounced the ‘sufis’. I am just a simple Muslim, neither ‘Salafi’ or ‘Sufi’, but I try to deal with people whatever their persuasion in as gentle and polite manner as possible. Unfortunately, whenever I do so I am then condemned as one or the other. Yes, I am a worthless inter-faither, not worthy of a salam.

These are the days when we need to express love for one another, but we don’t. Instead we are salafis, sufis, traditionalists, modernists, converts, Pakistanis, Arabs, Englishis; all trampling down our own unique path, critical of all who fall without. Meanwhile, just as our noble Prophet warned us that they would, the nations continue to summon each other upon us as we call guests to eat from a plate of food – may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him. We cannot respond, because we are suspicious of one another. Having categorised ourselves, we categorise others and find ourselves easily able to write off the suffering of those outside. It is all wrong. This brotherhood of yours is one brotherhood.

These are the days when we need to express love for one another. These are the days.

Going off at tangents

It is interesting where my frequent digressions lead me. I have a tendency to see in other people’s writing what they did not intend, or never could have intended: the little snippet, the sentence or the word, which leads me off in an altogether new direction.

Late last night I was thinking about that article on nasheed pop-culture which led me off on another irrelevant foray two days ago. I had considered it rather harsh at the time, but it has got me thinking. This journalist was not alone in expressing her concerns; indeed in this month’s Q-News, Suma Din reports on the growing concern that the nasheed business has lost its bearings as it becomes increasingly efficient and corporate. All across blogistan and cyberspace, fingers are tapping out thoughts on the subject.

That something is efficient, or corporate, or well organised does not have to be a bad thing. It would be wonderful if the teachers in Muslim schools received a decent wage, for example, the management respecting their teachers’ efforts. But I do appreciate the concern: there is that fear that we might just be diving head first down a lizard hole.

As I pondered the whole topic late last night – initiating thoughts that led me to search out some ahadith about the signs of the hour – it occurred to me that this concern could equally be applied to any media we are engaged with today. Muslims have sought a voice over recent years in print, through the internet and now satellite TV, primarily as a means of countering the representations made by what we commonly call the “mainstream media”. Just as we may have legitimate concerns about where a culture of nasheed performance may take us, it is reasonable to ask whether everything is sound in these other media.

Personally I find that I am caught between two poles. On the one hand I am anticipating an Islamic renaissance in the West – our Cordoba moment when our community will flourish in culture, art and literature as a light to humanity. On the other hand, considering the realisation of many of the signs of the Hour which Muhammad – peace be upon him – announced for us, there is a sense that this dream of regeneration is mere delusion.

Many engaged with the various communication media available to us today have high hopes about the former. There are growing numbers of glossy magazines and weekly newspapers circulating today. Thousands of us maintain weblogs and take pride in our contribution to… what? To the Muslim community? To literature? To humanity? To ourselves? We maintain them for some reason anyway. There are also thousands of traditional websites. There is the growth of Muslim publishing. And of satellite TV. I have been trying to look on the bright side too.

But the journalist’s contribution has left me thinking. When we write, do we do so with the proper adab? And do we respect knowledge as we should? Do we say we do not know when we do not know? Do we write about that about which we have knowledge? And when saying nothing will do, do we feel we must write something just to fill up the column inches? The journalist asked us not to listen to what is haram: similar could be said of our engagement with writing. Do we lay people have the ability or capacity to write about that which we are writing about, and if we do not, is it halal to continue doing so? I do not know the answer.

The signs of the Hour are in many minds these days. The violence, brutality and widespread killing remind us of our blessed Prophet’s warnings about the latter days. The once barefooted Bedouin are now racing one another to construct the highest building, just as he – peace be upon him – said they would. All of us are touched by the dust of usury, even as we try our best to avoid it, just as he foretold. We know that every word that our blessed Prophet Muhammad spoke was truthful. As Ibn Majah, Bukhrai and Muslim all reported, “The Prophet said, ‘Just before the Hour, there will be
days in which knowledge will disappear and ignorance will appear, and there will be much killing.'” As I witness the fulfilment of many a prophesy, I feel quite afraid of others.

Our noble Messenger Muhammad, peace be upon him, told us of the days when ignorance would increase, when an opinion would be sought from the most worthless of us, when writing would be widespread, when the matters of public life would be discussed by ignorant people, when the leader of a people is the worst of them. All of these have implications for those of us involved in one medium or another. So how are we to conduct ourselves if we are to engage at all? If we see an evil action, we have been commanded to fight it with our hands, but if we cannot do that we should fight it with our tongues, and if we cannot do this we should hate it in our hearts – and that is the weakest of faith. So we know there is a role for us – but how we conduct ourselves is the question.

I know that we should not read ahadith in isolation and we should really study under a teacher, for we are not qualified to interpret knowledge for ourselves. Still, I gave myself such a fright last night as I sat reading before my Isha prayer. To turn in repentance was the only response I considered appropriate. The Prophet’s words reminded me that even if Allah t’ala has granted me a vocation, He requires me to act within the framework of the Shariah with wisdom. When I do not know, I should be silent. If I am asked for my opinion on something about that which I have no knowledge, I should say I do not know. If news reaches me, I should endeavour to verify it. And if I see an evil, I should uphold Allah’s law above all, being a witness to the Truth and not a slave to the latest trend.

So for this weblog journey of a self-centred soul, it may mean some re-evaluation of my direction. Perhaps a return to those idealistic postings of early 2001 which were more dawah focussed. I’m not sure yet. I may just post less frequently – but then I have said that before. Whatever I decide to do, I pray that Allah t’ala grants me wisdom and protects me from those whispers that lead us astray so quickly. We all should, for the consequences do not bare thinking of.

It was narrated by anonymous…

When I was studying for my Masters degree in Publishing six years ago, I was interested as a recent convert to Islam in the question of safeguarding knowledge now that technology had brought publishing within virtually anyone’s grasp. As a new Muslim I was interested in the question of what constituted knowledge, given that I was able to lay my hands on any number of books on Islamic topics without really knowing anything about their authors. It was because of this that I decided to write my dissertation on this subject, proposing a concept of review and accreditation for popular Islamic publishing in the United Kingdom.

I have been reflecting on this recently after encountering several instances of individuals offering sincere advice to others on matters pertaining to our religion. There is nothing wrong with this of course; indeed it is commendable. What troubles me is that the advice is offered by people who care not to tell us their name. One would understand that someone in fear of his/her life or prosecution might seek refuge in anonymity, but each of the cases I have witnessed has been quite straight forward: the photographer receiving an anonymous letter warning him that his trade is haram; the commentary on nasheed culture published by a concerned anonymous Muslim; a writer given firm but kind advice by one who does not reveal his or her name.

Compare this to the enlightened days of our ummah. A reading certificate defined which books scholars could use, while a record of regular attendance was always kept by those promulgating books of hadith. Details were kept of who had listened to the entire book, who had joined in partially, which portions they missed, and the dates and location of the readings. The certificate was an exclusive licence for those listed within to read, teach, copy and quote from that book.(1) Muslims were so concerned about the preservation of knowledge that an entire science developed to determine the authenticity of hadith. In their Guide to Sira and Hadith Literature in Western Languages Anees and Athar wrote about the science of hadith: ‘It is the only branch of knowledge that requires personal ethical responsibility on the part of individuals who involve themselves in this endeavour. In its quest for exactitude, it held accountable those who transmitted information.’(2)

By contrast we do not know if the anonymous author is such-and-such, son of so-and-so, student of such-and-such, nor where they obtained this knowledge and whether they have a reading certificate to accompany their advice. We simply do not know. Consequently I find myself pondering that question which I first asked six years ago. At the time – considering an Islamic heritage that placed great emphasis on the authentication of knowledge – I was interested in whether there was a case for the establishment of a review body, modelled not just on Muslim tradition but also on the structures of peer review set up in the scientific and academic publishing industries.

In a society that argues that there is no absolute truth, only contingent truths, the claim that Islamic knowledge needs protection can obviously be considered an affront to the concept of freedom of speech – indeed, to the freedom of individual Muslims to make their own fatwa. Two authors writing about publishing in Muslim countries almost a decade ago noted that the books now published by Muslims in great quantities, ‘set aside the long tradition of authoritative discourse by religious scholars in favour of a direct understanding of texts. Today chemists and medical doctors can interpret Islamic principles as equals with scholars who have graduated from traditional centres of learning.’(3)

While many advocates of unrestricted free speech would welcome such a development, I argued that apart from opening our religion to the general threat of corruption, it could be used to support actions which have disastrous consequences. I had in mind wanton acts of violence, but the possibilities are endless. I was in favour, therefore, of the tradition which saw Islamic scholars confident of their role as guardians of knowledge. I noted that Rosenthal, writing in Knowledge Triumphant: The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam, argued that there was little that later influences and developments were able to accomplish by way of injecting new ideas into what constituted Islamic knowledge.(4)

In an age in which the publishing medium has been democratised – the photocopier, the personal computer, desk top publishing and the Internet are all within our grasp – it is important that we keep our rich heritage in mind. The exacting sciences designed to preserve the teachings of Islam developed for a reason: to protect us as believers. When it is narrated that anonymous reported that an unnamed scholar forbade such and such, we know that it is not right. Let us honour those great men and women who passed before us who strove to safeguard knowledge for our benefit. We can start by putting those remarkable traditions into practice in our own lives.

(1) Al-Azami, M.M. (2003) The History of the Qur’anic Text from Revelation to Compilation (Leicester: UKIA)(2) Anees, M.A. and Athar, A.N. (1986) Guide to Sira and Hadith Literature in Western Languages (London: Mansell Publishing Limited)
(3) Eickelman, D.F. and Anderson, J.W. (1997) ‘Publishing in Muslim countries: less censorship, new audiences and rise of the “Islamic” book’ in LOGOS (London: Whurr Publishers Ltd.) 8/4
(4) Rosenthal, F. (1970) Knowledge Triumphant: The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam (Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill)


The power of words is astonishing. Some have the power to stir the emotions, to lighten one’s load. Others strike like a knitting needle pushed through the heart; that piercing pain that arises on receipt of harsh sentiments. Others still just perturb.

Last night I could not sleep because words had unsettled me. My chest was tight. Fear not, it is apparently just asthma which seems to be triggered by stress, the stress no doubt triggered by my oversensitivity. The words were not addressed at me in particular, but they still jarred against me, making my brain fizz.

Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching says the Quran.

I wish we did. Even when they come from my dearest friends, from people I may agree with, even when they are not targeted to me, there are words which cause me unease. Why do some of those who are apparently closest to the spirit of tawhid address others with such contempt, while the more distant perhaps find the most pleasant words even for their enemies? Why is it that in our zealous desire to convey the truth, we abandon good manners and common etiquette?

I know I am oversensitive these days; I know this skews my response from time to time; but this condition is very real. I have a friend who spent his early days as a Muslim amongst the ultra-salafis until he could take their harsh words no more. Ripping into him with their tongues, they left him in tears in a public gathering more than once. Traumatised by those years, he has left them far behind. But now he has harsh words for them, indeed for all salafis. It is not true that these people are alone in suffering from this disease. We all do and we all do it. We all condemn one another, forgetting that we are brothers. I have seen and heard the harsh words of both the salafi and the sufi, the traditionalist and the modernist, the sunni and the shia.

We forget that we are but brothers. We forget the true Prophetic instruction on how we should advise one another when we er, or when we do not know. Our words are harsh for him on the other side, forgetting that he is actually on our side. If some of us are remiss, then advise us in the best of ways. If some of us have made mistakes, remind us in a way that is kind. If I do not have knowledge the like of yours, invite me to the way of our Lord with wisdom and beautiful speech.

The power of words is indeed astonishing. No wonder we are warned to maintain control of our tongues at all times, and of our typing finger by extension. What a vast amount of timber can be set ablaze by the tiniest spark. I don’t think this only refers to the destruction caused by a rumour; isolated words also hurt and crush the soul. Words can be uplifting, words can be light, words can be a comfort and words can be a guide. These are our halal openings and we must evaluate all that falls without.

Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching.

And may Allah have mercy on us all.

Four questions

Something to keep in mind…

  • Question 1: “Are these words true?”
  • Question 2: “Are these words necessary?”
  • Question 3: “Are these words beneficial?”
  • Question 4: “Are these words kind?”

If I think the answer is no, I should probably leave them in my head.


Sorry, don’t mean to be rude, but please, everyone, just shut up. The Book of James in the New Testament – Luther’s Epistle of Straw – always used to appeal to me during those agnostic days. Some words stay with me even now.

…think of a ship: large though it may be and driven by gales, it can be steered by a very small rudder on whatever course the helmsman chooses. So with the tongue; it is small, but its pretensions are great … What a vast amount of timber can be set ablaze by the tiniest spark!

We are such opinionated beasts. Mankind I mean. May both my tongue which speaks and my typing fingers know their limits. And may God forgive me and all of us. We have gone too far already.

The complexities of censorship

Following my recent post ‘To blog or not to blog?’ some additional complexities surrounding the question of censorship occurred to me. Namely the question of censorship in the contemporary Muslim world and, secondly, how freedom of speech plays against the Islamic emphasis on the preservation of knowledge (think of the science of isnad verification, for example). In accepting that Islamic Scholars are the guardians of our religion, we implicitly reject those who speak without authority in matters relating to the Qur’an and Sunnah. In reality, today such censorship hardly exists, hence the confusion we encounter. Nevertheless, I would like to explore these two issues more.

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To blog or not to blog?

Our blessed Prophet said, “He who truly believes in God and the Last Day should speak good or keep silent.” For those of us who love to write, the implications of this are clear. To “Blog” brings with it responsibilities. Although I don’t consider myself a “Blogger” – simply a writer who finds the dynamic publishing mechanism of blogging software a really useful tool, a step on from FTP I used four years ago and DTP before that* – this question exercises me constantly. I have a back catalogue spanning nine years on my own site, yet it contains barely one hundred items; were I a real blogger I would have at least three thousand. The command to “speak good” must equally apply to all forms of communication.

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The tiniest spark

Today I felt a discomfort in my soul, like on another day a week or two ago. There was no reason for it really, but for a moment, seeking something in common with my peers, I complained aloud about my Project Manager. I fed upon my own boss’ cynicism about her abilities and complained that the translation that I was supposed to be working from was incomplete, and that she had written for me a note of what I had already explained for her on a yellow post-it note on my folder. ‘How stupid,’ was my implication. Ten seconds later, having said it, regret filled my mind. I felt like sending an e-mail to a brother. ‘I’m becoming no better than a kaffer [disbeliever].’ I didn’t write it. I questioned my intention. But I thought it. ‘I should know better. Maybe that makes me worse.’

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